Lewis calls for new partnership to enhance national productivity
Stabroek News
December 4, 2001

Labour, the private sector and government yesterday started defining their roles in a social contract to increase productivity in Guyana and General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Lincoln Lewis, wants an incentive regime in place to allow businesses that invest in Guyana's future to be secured.

"....We - the government, labour and private sector - have all failed our people. For the citizens of this country have entrusted in us a country to lead, which slides further into poverty. We are giving excuses like El Nino and La Nina and September 11, and shift to Town Day bash and Main Street Lime with a view of sidetracking the real issue which is enhancing production and productivity," Lewis said.

His remarks were made at the National Productivity Forum, which got underway at Le Meridien Pegasus yesterday with the labour movement, the private sector and the government attempting to iron out a social contract to enhance development in Guyana with the emphasis on productivity growth. The forum was subjected to a picketing exercise by the public service unions rejecting the government's final offer of a 5.5% wage hike for this year.

It has to be a realistic partnership! Prime Minister Sam Hinds yesterday addressing the National Productivity Forum sponsored by the ILO and the Ministry of Labour. At the head table from left are General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Lincoln Lewis; Head of the Consultative Association of Guyanese Industries (CAGI), David Yankana, ILO representative, Dr Andre'-Vincent Henry and Chairman of the proceedings and Minister of Labour, Dr Dale Bisnauth. (Ken Moore photo)

Lewis argued that nothing short of a new partnership for industry was desperately needed and urged that a new industrial strategy be crafted. He noted that the link between productivity and poverty was complex and that the poor often destroyed the basic resources on which they depended.

He argued that while the country pandered to the donor community and "use every trick in the book to deceive" citizens, the grim reality of uncertainty for the work force, some of who knew nothing but crisis, had to be faced.

"For the sake of industry and our children's jobs we need a new industrial strategy and that is why we are gathered here. The government must offer economic incentives to encourage businesses to invest free from hassle from political functionaries and greedy bureaucrats," Lewis entreated.

He said that a first step must be to reconnect with the education system particularly in the area of further and higher educational institutions. He also argued that institutional investors must represent the stakeholders better by offering longer-term commitments rather than rushing for short-term profits.

He also called on the government to grapple with the need to raise skilled standards to build a future workforce for Guyana. He also noted the need to strive for the establishment of national productivity council(s) in workplaces and to raise the status of industries in Guyana.

Lewis is certain that only with these elements in place would a future for Guyanese industries be seen, as well as a future for workers and improving the standard of living.

"Let us now walk the walk and talk the talk," Lewis urged participants, seeing the forum not as one to protect respective constituents but to protect and enhance Guyanese industry. He said that the labour movement's call for a coordinated industrial strategy fell on deaf ears and now the chickens were coming home to roost.

The forum was organised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) under its programme for the promotion of management/labour cooperation (Promalco) and the Ministry of Labour. The opening session saw contributions from Prime Minister Sam Hinds and head of the employers' group, David Yankana.

Yankana said that the employers' group would dedicate its efforts during the two-day forum to drive a conclusive programme with a tripartite team of selected persons to move towards a productivity centre for Guyana.

Arguing that competitiveness was linked to productivity and noting the ILO's position of high-road strategies against low-road pursuits, Yankana said that the local private sector aimed to achieve customer satisfaction by producing goods and services, which created more value than the price paid.

However, Yankana said that the underlying assumptions for the private sector's actions would be sound monetary policy, prudent fiscal policies and economic stability. The latter, he noted, included sound industrial relation practices and respect for the core labour standards and agreements reached collectively.

"High-road strategies cannot be achieved by the lowering of the threshold of labour standards and social protection," Yankana said, while noting that too rigid rules would constrain firms from reacting to demand and supply. He noted the need to have labour standards, which were not stifling. He said that demand for wage increases had to be pursued in reality.

He urged that the forum be used to build trust among the social partners.

Hinds, who was forced to abandon his prepared speech because of the picketing exercise and took the microphone as Norris Witter held high a placard demanding that the principles of collective bargaining be adhered to, and urged that the parties find agreement and work out how productivity in Guyana would be improved as well as the standard of living.

He said that while he had a feeling that swords would be drawn and the battle would commence at the forum, this was not a bad thing as it meant the issues would be ventilated.

Hinds called on labour to be realistic and recognise that the government could not pay increases which exceeded productivity gains made.

He said that the stakeholders needed to sit and decide what attitudes they would take as the country grew and the various sectors developed. He questioned whether an across-the-board increase would be accepted by all workers or whether the workers in the various sectors should be rewarded based on the performance of those sectors.

He called for the development of a sense of teamwork, trust, and family amongst the players. He said that if certain things were not taking place then it meant that all the questions had not been addressed.

The productivity forum was seen as important because of the dilemma confronting development in that at the slightest threat to profitability, labour, professed as the most important asset, was sacrificed while on the other hand, the trade union, which existed to protect the interest of workers, saw declining unionised workers.

Promalco is a two-year project jointly sponsored by the ILO and the US Department for Labour and it attempts to engage Caribbean enterprise, workers, employers and governments in the process of culture change for continuous improvement that was demanded by the international economic system.